Monday, November 30, 2009

Menopause and (No) Sleep - How I Conquered It

If you've been following this blog, you know that my major menopause complaint was sleeplessness. It's been months of trial and error, but I've finally found what seems to work for me. It requires forethought and was work to get it started, but it's routine now.

The Basics:

  1. I get up and go to bed around the same time every day

  2. Sleeping room is dark, quiet and well-ventilated

  3. No tv in bed (but I do read every night before going to sleep)

The Details That Help:

  1. Exercise - walking, biking, running at least 5 days a week for at least 30 minutes.

  2. Vitamins - I take a multi-vitamin (Emergen-C), and 1000 mg Omega 3 and 1000 IU of D3 every day.

  3. Food - Eat regular meals of healthy food with as few preservatives and additives as possible.

The Secret Element That Made The Difference (For Me):

  1. Calcium and Magnesium. I take multi Calcium (2000 mg), Magnesium (1000 mg), and Potassium (200 mg) every day in the evening. It's recommended to take at bedtime, but I've had better results taking it a couple of hours before bed.

Other things I've tried (like Chinese herbs) didn't do much for sleep, although certainly provided other support for my body in transition. Over the counter preparations like Remifemin didn't do much for me, but didn't harm me. Over the counter estrogen and progestin creams didn't seem to have much effect on me either.

In desperation, I cut out all alcohol (which made me sad because a glass of wine is one of life's joys) but saw no difference in my sleeping. I have now found that I can enjoy a glass of wine or beer with no problem (but more leads to sleeplessness.)

The calcium product that I am using is called Mega Food Calcium, Magnesium & Potassium and can be taken with or without food. It was highly recommended by the expert at my local organic food store. I think it rocks.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

What is a Hot Flash Anyway?

Basically, a hot flash is a brief feeling of intense warmth and sweating. It can be brief or extended in duration and intensity. While there can be other medical reasons for hot flashes, we'll concentrate on menopause-related hot flashes.

A hot flash begins as a sensation of intense warmth in the upper body, and can be followed by skin redness (flushing), drenching perspiration, and for some women, a final cold, clammy feeling. Typically, these symptoms begin at the head and spread downward toward the neck and chest, but they can also feel like they rise upward from the chest. Hot flashes can last from 30 seconds to 5 minutes, with the average being 4 minutes.

Hot flashes can be accompanied by other uncomfortable sensations, such as heart palpitations, a pressure feeling in the head, or feelings of dizziness, faintness or weakness.

Researchers do not know exactly what causes hot flashes. Current theories suggest that most hot flashes are due to a menopause-related drop in the body's level of estrogen. This drop affects the hypothalamus, an area of the brain that regulates body temperature. In a hot flash, the hypothalamus seems to sense that your body is too hot even when it is not, and tells the body to release the excess heat. One way the body does this is to widen (dilate) blood vessels, particularly those near the skin of the head, face, neck and chest. Once the blood vessels return to normal size, you feel cool again.

Hot flashes affect up to 85% of women during the years immediately before and after menopause. Hot flashes can begin as early as two to three years before the last menstrual period and can last for six months to as long as 15 years after the final period, but the average is two years.

Some women have only a few episodes a year, while others have as many as 20 episodes a day. Hot flashes occur in women who experience natural menopause, as well as in women who undergo surgical menopause because their ovaries have been removed or because they take medications that lower estrogen levels.

In most women who undergo natural menopause, hot flashes generally subside within 2 to 5 years after the last menstrual period. In a small number of women, however, hot flashes can continue for 8 to 15 years after the last menstrual period. There is some evidence that women who go through menopause due to surgery may have more severe hot flashes for more years than women who go through natural menopause.

8 Ways to Beat Hot Flashes

If you are reading this, you are probably either menopausal or know someone who is. Either way, it sucks to be you right now. But you are a member of a club -- albeit unwillingly -- and we can learn from and help each other.

According to the National Institute of Health, a hot flash is a sudden temporary onset of body warmth, flushing and sweating. The intensity and frequency of hot flashes varies greatly from woman to woman. The Mayo Clinic reports that 75% of menopausal and post menopausal women experience hot flashes.

But the cause(s) of hot flashes remain somewhat mysterious. There are a multitude of theories to explain what causes them, but no single definitive answer. The most widely accepted theory is that hot flashes are caused by a deficiency in circulating estrogen as a result of declining ovarian function. Which is nice to know, but doesn't make a bit of difference if you are having one.

While every woman is different, here are 8 tips that may make lessen hot flashes or at least make them more bearable. Remember that more gentle therapies (like vitamins and herbs) may take 4-6 weeks for effects to be felt.

  1. Research suggests that foods rich in phytoestrogens (like soy) may have some benefit for reducing hot flashes and other symptoms of menopause. These plant hormones have weak, estrogen-like effects. It's best that you get your soy from foods rather than from supplements -- there are other benefits to foods containing phytoestrogens, like fiber and vitamins. Foods that contain soy include tofu, tempeh, miso, soy milk, and whole soybeans (edamame). With a bit of thought, it's easy to work more soy into your diet. Use soy milk for smoothies, on cereal, or in a hot beverage. Eat boiled edamame as a snack, have miso soup before a meal, and include tofu as a protein source once or twice a week.

  2. Black Cohosh is a popular choice for the reduction of hot flashes, although little empirical evidence exists about whether it is effective for menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes and night sweats. According to the North American Menopause Society, despite the lack of definitive evidence, "it would seem that black cohosh is a safe, herbal medicine.”

  3. Natural progesterone has been found to provide relief for hot flashes and other symptoms of menopause for many women. It is available in over-the-counter cream, compound prescription cream or capsule, and in traditional prescription forms. Use according to directions - you already know how powerful hormones are!

  4. A study published in Gynecologic and Obstetric Investigation found that Vitamin E may help reduce the occurrence and severity of hot flashes and night sweats during menopause. The average dose is between 400 and 800 IUs daily. If you are diabetic or have high blood pressure, consult your physician first.

  5. Exercise at least 30 minutes every day. You can walk, run, ride a bicycle, or do another activity. You can break this into two 15 minute segments if needed. Try to avoid exercise within 3 hours of going to bed to help prevent insomnia and night sweats.

  6. Avoid dietary triggers that can start a bout of hot flashes. These include alcohol, caffeine, chocolate, aged cheeses and spicy foods. If your hot flashes seem to be worse after consuming these foods, try eliminating the offenders and see if the hot flashes subside.

  7. Drink a glass of cool water at the beginning of a hot flash. This seems to lessen discomfort in some women.

  8. Wear natural fiber clothes year round that allow your skin to breathe. Try dressing in layers so you can remove items as needed to maintain comfort.

Update: I don't mind if you want to add a link to your products by commenting here, but you have to take the time to actually make a comment that will be of interest to readers or it won't be published.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Yet Another Menopause Update

Aahhh, menopause. What is there to say? If you think menstruating is the "curse", wait til you try stopping.

It turns out that the first post that I did helped me to focus on what's going on to set a plan manage symptoms. The second update let me see how I kept to or failed in planning. I think the secret is to only identify a few things at a time so that they are more manageable.

So here's my two cents, and my own experience. Follow up to plan:

1. Menopause - I can report that it still sucks. Hot flashes come and go, currently in a "come" phase. I'm boiling hot in head and chest, freezing everywhere else. I have noticed that they are mostly triggered by stress or annoyance. On the plus side, it forces me to remember to breathe deeply and not feel stressed or annoyed. Still getting bad headaches, about every 28 days.

2. Sleep - still my number one preoccupation. Slight improvement with a trial-and-error combination of approaches. More details separately.

3. Exercise - I'm getting plenty because I am walking 2 - 4 miles six days a week, and running at least a mile four days a week. I know this is a good thing, but I haven't lost any weight as a result. So disappointing.

4. Health - Remembering to wash hands very frequently, and so far not even a cold. This is very unusual for me. Also got a regular flu shot (but not H1N1.)

5. Eating - I eat pretty healthy, and not too many processed foods. But I still need to lose 100 pounds and it seems impossible.

I don't think I need a new plan at present - just keep working to reduce severity of menopause symptoms and maintain (and improve) overall health.

If you are just starting this menopause phase, I can tell you that I spent a year in panic as each new symptom started and seemed overwhelming. I'm more practical about it now, but managing menopause is a little bit like gardening - it takes time and patience to get to the end of the season.

How are YOU doing?